Veterans focus on stand down

Brian WilkinsonMay 29, 2013 

A Stand Down, providing goods and services to military veterans was held May 18 at Sierra Pines Church.

More than 400 veterans gathered to support each other and enjoy the bond that began when they signed-up to join the military as young men.

The Stand Down officially began with a prayer, Yosemite High School Cadet Corps presentation of the colors, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and Jolinda Thomas singing the Star Spangled Banner.U.S. Army veteran Terry Cole is Caring Vets of America chapter commander.

"Veterans helping other veterans is what we're all about," Cole said.

Supplies including boots, clothing, sleeping bags, plastic canteens, hygiene kits, belts and military vests are provided at no charge for veterans attending the event.

The night before, trucks and trailers were loaded with the supplies, tables and chairs, cold drinks, food and other necessary equipment and delivered to Sierra Pines Church and placed on tables the next morning ready for fellow veterans to help themselves. In addition to veteran volunteers, 15 members of the YHS Cadet Corps also donated their time to assist veterans under the direction of Colonel Bruce Derry (ret.) and veteran Ellen Peterson.

Heather Ritchie, a craft care specialist with Help Hospitalized Veterans was at the event handing out small leather crafts.

"Our organization works with a lot of veterans who have post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS) and veterans who can't get around like they used to due to surgery or a service-related injury," Ritchie said. "There is a big therapeutic value to arts and crafts and we provide free leather coin purses and wallets along with bird house kits and model cars to veterans. Working on a crafts project keeps their mind active and gives them a sense of accomplishment."

Ritchie provides arts and crafts classes 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. every Monday at Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, 808 4th Street, Clovis, and 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. every Thursday at the San Joaquin Valley Veterans Office at 4928 E. Clinton, Fresno. For additional details, Ritchie can be reached at (559) 403-3424, fresno@hhv.org.

Albert Kiser, 68, a highly decorated Marine Corps veteran now living in Coarsegold, attended his third Stand Down.

He served two back-to-back tours (26 straight months) in Vietnam and is now fighting pulmonary tuberculosis that he contracted there and has caused two tumors on his spine, forcing him to a wheelchair.

"What's great about these Stand Downs is they bring veterans together," Kiser said. "A lot of times many of these vets will not talk to other people about their military experiences, but they will talk to other veterans."

Kiser, who is a double Purple Heart recipient and has two personnel commendations from President Lyndon Johnson, picked up a couple back packs and a nice pair of flight gloves, among other items at the event.

"This is all good stuff," said the retired surveyor of 40 years. "All the veterans are very appreciative to receive these supplies."

Veterans were served hamburgers and hot dogs. Assisting with the barbecue were members of Sierra Pines Men's Ministry.

Throughout the event everyone was entertained by the country music band, Crossroads.

The Stand Down was also generously supported by the Department of Veteran's Affairs in Fresno, Madera and Oakhurst, supplying information about veteran's benefits and health care support. Representatives from Central Valley and Madera Stand Down, and The American Legion assisted veterans throughout the morning.

Caring Vets of America provides this service to fellow veterans through donations.

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